The Redskins were 18 yards from the tying touchdown with eight minutes to play yesterday. Pretty remarkable, given the ebb and flow of the game -- mostly ebb from their standpoint. Let that be the epitaph of their 2005 season: No matter what the circumstances, they almost always gave themselves at least a chance to win, a big reason why their victory total jumped from six to 11.
Despite their pluck, though, the Redskins still lost 20-10 to the Seahawks at precipitation-filled Qwest Field and in one respect, their year ended in the same place it ended a year ago -- in a desperate search for an offense to match the team's exquisite defense. The Redskins managed only 27 points in two playoff games, and the defense and special teams had a hand in 17 of them. Heck, beginning with the regular-season finale in Philadelphia, the offense was little more than a broken-down heap on the side of the road.
Joe Gibbs has done a fabulous job since he came back of readjusting attitudes at Redskin Park and creating a unified front. The franchise has direction now, and this season definitely gives it something to build on. But offense has always been Joe's baby, and it continues to be the club's No.1 issue. Had Mark Brunell and Co. been able to generate much of anything in the early going yesterday -- instead of starting the game with five three-and-outs -- the Redskins might be playing for the NFC championship next weekend.
"Obviously, we wanted to be much more productive than what we were in the playoffs," Gibbs said. "That'll be one of the things we look hard at -- how we can do a better job. ... It's hard to put a finger on [what went wrong]. We played some real good football teams [in Tampa Bay and Seattle]. But it's my responsibility regardless."
The record will show that the Redskins followed their 120-yard effort against the Bucs with a 74-yard effort in the first half against the Seahawks. That's about as miserable as it gets, folks. Six quarters of just wretched offense -- when it matters most, too.
The only reason the Redskins weren't totally blown out was that Seattle kept putting the ball on the ground. A dropped punt led to the only Washington points of the first half, a 26-yard field goal by John Hall, and a fumble on a kickoff put the Redskins in the aforementioned 18-yards-from-the-tying touchdown situation. But the Seahawks' "D" regrouped, Hall missed a 36-yarder to the left, and that was the ballgame.
The one TD the offense did score came on a pass that bounced off a Seattle defender and into the surprised hands of Santana Moss. Yes, the Redskins once again were the beneficiaries of more than their share of miracles -- not the least of which was the concussion that knocked NFL MVP Shaun Alexander out of the game soon after it had begun. Even without Alexander, though, the Seahawks gained 334 yards against Gregg Williams' defense.
"The guy's a playmaker," Marcus Washington said of Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck. "He really took the game in his hands. Did a good job of scrambling."
That was probably the biggest difference between the two teams: The Seahawks had a quarterback capable of taking "the game in his hands," and the Redskins didn't. Like the Bucs the week before, the 'Hawks stacked eight defenders near the line of scrimmage -- making life awfully tough for Clinton Portis (17 carries, 41 yards) -- and dared Brunell to beat them. He couldn't.
"They stuffed us," No.8 said. "We did not run the ball the way we wanted to."
And Brunell didn't throw it well enough to discourage them from doing it. He hit a couple of plays to Chris Cooley (for 52 yards) and Santana Moss (for 39) in the fourth quarter, when the Redskins were playing catch-up, but what took so long? Leaders are supposed to lead. And you don't start leading in the fourth quarter, you start leading in the first.
In recent weeks, though, the Redskins seemed to go into a shell offensively in the early parts of games -- to hang back and let their defense set the tone. Granted, their poor field position in the first half yesterday dictated a more conservative approach, but still ... They appeared to be playing scared when they were backed up in their own end, playing not to lose.
That never used to be Gibbs' style. Where's the coach who once had Jay Schroeder, in his first NFL start, fade back into his own end zone at the beginning of a game -- against the mighty 49ers, no less -- and fire a 40-yard completion to Art Monk? I don't know about you, but I miss that kind of risk taking.
The Redskins made substantial progress this season, no question. But you're dreaming if you think it's going to get any easier. The Giants and Cowboys are coming on, and rest assured the Eagles will be back. Gibbs has some nice pieces on offense -- Portis, Moss, Cooley, the O-line -- but you can only go so far with average quarterbacking. The Redskins found out yesterday just how far that is.